Awe and Intimacy: Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis

http://vagabondmagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/salgado-1-.jpg

Photographer Sebastião Salgado will show you the world, and he wants you to care. The famed Brazilian photographer’s latest project, Genesis, is a celebration of the beauty and fragility of life on Earth. Two weeks ago, I went to the International Center of Photography in Manhattan with the Portuguese and Brazilian Studies department to see the exhibition.

Salgado was an economist by trade. His work for the International Coffee Association regularly took him to far-flung destinations, and he was inspired by people and places he saw during his travels. He began taking photos and in 1973 abandoned his career as an economist and devoted himself full-time to photography. That same year he formed his own photo agency, Amazonas Images, with his wife Leila Wanick.

Sebastião Salgado, The eastern part of the Brooks Range, which rises to over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft.), The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, 2009. © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images—Contact Press Images.

Sebastião Salgado, The eastern part of the Brooks Range, which rises to over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft.), The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, 2009. © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images—Contact Press Images.

Since 1973, Salgado has visited over 1oo countries in a relentless quest to document the extreme beauty of the Earth and the struggles and complexity of human life. His photo-documentary projects have included Migrations; The Sahel: The End of the Road; The Children: Refugees and Migrants; Other Americas; Africa; and more. Salgado’s photos are as powerful as they are intimate, forcing the viewer to confront stark realities. His major projects are shot in black and white.

Genesis, Salgado’s most recent project and the subject of our visit to New York, is the result of eight years of globetrotting. While Salgado’s previous photo projects have captured the beauty and complexity of certain regions or groups of people, Genesis is a wider exploration of life on Earth. Leila Wanick Salgado, Sebastião’s wife and the curator, has described Genesis as “a quest for the world as it was, as it was formed, as it evolved, as it existed for millennia before modern life accelerated and began distancing us from the very essence of our being.” In short, Genesis is Salgado’s tribute to the world.

Displaying Genesis in monochrome unifies the project, allowing the viewer to appreciate the Amazon rainforest, the Siberian tundra, and a group of hunter-gatherers in Papua New Guinea as many facets of a singular nature.

Genesis introduces the viewer to several geographical regions and types of environments. The exhibit is divided in five sections: Sanctuaries; Planet South; Africa; Amazonia and Pantanal; and Northern Spaces.

All the photos are in black and white, which at first might seem odd for a project that is intended to celebrate the diversity of the natural world. But Salgado uses monochrome to challenge the viewer’s visual perceptions natural spaces. For example, most people are familiar with postcard images of the Grand Canyon that highlight its brilliant red rock. Because Salgado’s photos of the Grand Canyon are in black and white, they move beyond the visual stimulus of color, exposing instead the contours of the rock and the stark contrast between solid earth and billowing clouds.

Displaying Genesis in monochrome unifies the project, allowing the viewer to appreciate the Amazon rainforest, the Siberian tundra, and a group of hunter-gatherers in Papua New Guinea as many facets of a singular nature.

Sebastião Salgado, Marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Galápagos. Ecuador, 2004. © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images—Contact Press Images.

Sebastião Salgado, Marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Galápagos. Ecuador, 2004. © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images—Contact Press Images.

Perhaps the most intriguing photographs of the exhibition are Salgado’s images of indigenous people.  While the photos of nature convey a sense of grandeur and, in most cases, harshness, those of people elicit more complex feelings.

Salgado’s photos eschew pejorative stereotypes of indigenous people. Salgado focuses on the intimate moments, capturing images of elderly Waura women wading in a river in the Amazon, a Nenets boy playing with a dog on the frozen tundra, a family in Papua New Guinea relaxing in their elevated treehouse, and more. Salgado’s photos do not romanticize indigenous life, but rather introduce us — citizens of the modern, industrialized world — to other people of our species who interact with and depend on their environments in a more conscious way.

And as modernity clouds our society’s connection with nature, Salgado asks us to look around and appreciate our magnificent planet — and then think about how we can stop destroying it.

Photos via. 




There are no comments

Add yours